In Alabama, Impairment Assigned by Doctor Just a Factor Judges Consider When Assigning Physical Disability
On April 19, 2019, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals released its opinion in Tuscaloosa County v. Chaka Beville. In Beville, the employee sought benefits for a wrist injury. The authorized treating physician assigned a 4% left upper extremity impairment. The basis of the doctor’s assigned impairment was decreased joint mobility, increased stiffness, and limited grip strength. Loss of grip strength was not considered since it was expected to improve over time. After a trial on the merits, the trial court awarded the employee a 60% physical disability to the arm. Although the employer argued on appeal that the trial court abused its discretion by awarding a physical disability that was fifteen times the impairment rating assigned by the doctor, the Court of Appeals determined that there was substantial evidence to support the verdict.
My Two Cents
Although the doctor did not offer any impairment rating to the hand, the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act makes it pretty clear that the scheduled number of weeks for the hand is the appropriate measure for a wrist injury. In both 25-5-1(12) (definitions) and 25-5-57(a)(3)15 (schedule) it states that an amputation between the elbow and the wrist should be considered the equivalent to the loss of a hand. If you are facing the possibility of a multiplier of 15 or higher, you may be better off arguing the hand over the arm since there is no corresponding impairment rating from a doctor.
About the Author
This blog submission was prepared by Mike Fish, an attorney with Fish Nelson & Holden, LLC, a law firm dedicated to representing self-insured employers, insurance carriers, and third party administrators in all matters related to workers’ compensation. Fish Nelson & Holden is a member of the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. If you have any questions about this submission or Alabama workers’ compensation in general, please contact Fish by e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling him directly at 205-332-1448.